There are few shows that so perfectly transcend a time period quite like “The Wonder Years.” As viewers, we watched the show’s protagonist, Kevin Arnold grow up before our eyes and were also treated to a near perfect representation of what it was like coming of age during the late 60’s.
Set against a nostalgic backdrop of some of the greatest music ever recorded, the nostalgia and wonder of childhood combined with a realistic portrayal of the ups-and-downs of adolescence helped make the show a massive hit from 1988-1993.
From the show’s first episode, it was clear that a main focus would surround Kevin’s attempt to gain his neighbor, Winnie Cooper’s undying affection. The kiss that the two share at the end of the first episode combined with Daniel Stern’s poetic narration is television magic at its finest.
“It was the first kiss for both of us. We never really talked about it afterwards. But I think about the events of that day again and again and somehow I know that Winnie does too, whenever some blowhard starts talking about the anonymity of the suburbs or the mindlessness of the tv generation. Because we know that inside each one of those identical boxes, with it’s dodge parked out front and it’s white bread on the table and it’s tv set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there were people with stories. There were families bound together in the pain and the struggle of love. There were moments that made us cry with laughter. And there were moments, like that one, of sorrow and wonder.“
That gentle narration set the scene for the tone of the show over the next 5 years as we wait and hope for Kevin and Winnie to finally wind up together. What unfolds is certainly a realistic telling of young romance, but also one that frustrates me upon re-watching this show as an adult. As a kid, I had no ill feelings towards Winnie. She seemed like the girl next door that provided perfect fodder for Kevin’s never ending pining. As an adult, I view her much differently. She represents every girl that ever played games, confused me, pretended to like me but didn’t or used me for her own gain.
Winnie’s treatment of Kevin, in large part, is hardly representative of a caring individual, let alone a believable love interest. When Kevin makes his intentions known to Winnie, she says things like “I like you Kevin…But I don’t…But I do.” A quote which very clearly represents the confused nature of women as they attempt to seek out the situation that best suits their current random feelings.
Upon re-watching the series as a 37 year-old man, I realized that Kevin’s struggles to win over Winnie is exactly what turns many guys into jaded, bitter individuals over time. A part of your innocence is stolen (from both males and females) when your first love rejects you despite the fact that you grow up with a certain naivety about love. Sure, Winnie and Kevin “date” sporadically throughout the show but the examples of Winnie’s uncaring and self-serving nature run rampant.
Winnie Cooper’s continued displays of disrespect
On another occasion, Kevin warns Winnie about hanging out with older boys and believes that they are nothing but trouble. Winnie, of course, does not heed this advice and winds up in a car accident as a result of riding with these boys. Kevin waits for hours at Winnie’s house so that he might be there to comfort her only for her to turn him away when she finally arrives home from the hospital. And, let’s not forget that in the show’s FINAL episode, Kevin flat out sees Winnie cheating on him with another lifeguard at the resort they are working at. These are just some of the examples that are sprinkled throughout the series that really make you wonder if Winnie even cares for Kevin in any other way than keeping him around for self-serving reasons.
Ultimately, “The Wonder Years” should always be remembered as one of the great TV shows of all time; with it’s relatable themes and gentle depiction of middle-age Americana during a time period that brought great change. Maybe the writer’s purpose was to show us that things don’t always work out the way we want them to. Kevin’s devotion to Winnie was not unlike situations many of us faced during adolescence. Maybe the girl of our dreams doesn’t always feel the same way about us no matter how much you go through together. On the show’s last episode, we find out that Kevin and Winnie do not wind up together. Instead, that they remained friends throughout adulthood and that Kevin still looks back on his childhood with wonder like so many of us do.